Blackpool Museum Project are always looking to feature stories about growing up in Blackpool on our blog. This week Blackpool-based writer and speaker Barry McCann recalls his memories of the town’s iconic Lewis’s Department Store.
The closure and demolition of The Palace Theatre in 1961 may remain one of Blackpool’s losses, but what replaced it became an icon of the Golden Mile for the three decades that followed – Lewis’s Department Store.
Opening of Lewis’s
Lewis’s opened in 1964, situated in an imposing modern building with an unusual honeycombed like frontage that lit up distinctively green after dark. And quickly rivalled RHO Hills as the town’s premier department store.
Everything under one roof
It could be described as the forerunner of the shopping mall with four floors of practically everything under one roof. Cosmetics, electrical goods, fashion, furniture, jewellery, toys and a basement food hall may have been the usual expectation of such an establishment. But these were complimented by a hairdressing salon, café, Wardroom Restaurant with sea view, and an open air rooftop garden with restaurant. Unlike most stores, it even boasted its own bank which Ken Dodd visited upon opening.
My own memories include the extensive record department which stood in its own annex, away from the main store. There, you could listen to your potential purchase in one of the listening booths, before retiring to the ground floor for a live cookery or make over demonstration.
Not surprisingly, Lewis’s really rolled out the red carpet at Christmas time with a Santa’s grotto fully staffed by elves and fairies. For the festive season of 1967 they went one better, being the year that the TV series Batman became a craze among youngsters. The traditional grotto became a bat cave in which queuing children would be taken by Robin to meet Mr. Batman. They sat on his lap while informing him of their wish list, and I was one of them.
Thankfully, the traditional grotto returned the following year but, as the store continued through the 1970s, other aspects began to fall on the wayside. The rooftop garden was closed permanently, and the self-service cafeteria that overlooked Bank Hey Street wound down and replaced by a small café in the basement. By the end of the 1980s, it was clear Lewis’s was falling out of fashion.
End of an era
The store closed its doors for the last time in 1993. Bernard Delfont had considered buying and transforming it into an entertainment centre, linked to the Tower Building by a covered bridge walkway. However, it was stripped down and the top two floors removed, before being reclad into the structure that stands there today.